Morse key/paddle for sota

I have searched the archives of the forum but it hasn’t came up for at least three years so i thought I’d get a new perspective.
I have once again started to learn Morse. Some may remember i started a while ago but after 6 months life got in the way and i stopped. I had got to learn the alphabet at 15wpm character speed at around 3-5 wpm speed and was onto numbers before i stopped. I am now back to learning it and have quickly got back to characters A-M at the same speed as before after a couple days of listening practice on the way to work. I am also starting a Morse learning course up at the local radio club as a few of us want to learn the code and we have a couple of cw operators at the club.

Anyway thats not what the topic was going to be about :slight_smile:

The topic of this thread is to ask all you CW operators what Morse key you use for sota. I want to pick a nice small key or paddle that is a sort of prize to myself once I have mastered enough of the code to try a QRS QSO.
I know there is the palm mini and pico around the £80-90 mark and the black and red Chinese type paddles i can get direct from china via aliexpress for around £32 delivered(these are the same as the Watson and Moonraker ones which are £80 they go by the name of Uniham) but I was wondering what other options are out there that people use?
i know you can make your own but I want to buy myself a prize for fulfilling something in this hobby I have wanted to do for over 10 years but never got round to.

I’m not looking for anything above £100-£120 maximum really so the lovely bengali adventurer is out of my price range.

Hi Anthony,

I use this Palm Radio one. Very happy with it.


I’m also a BIG fan of the Palm mini and pico paddles. Light weight, good feel, rugged, long term reliable. If I only could choose one, it would be the pico.

73, Barry N1EU

Pico paddle !

73, Jarek, SP9MA

Palm Mini or Palm Pico get my vote, both are very reliable and robust.

The Dirt Cheap Paddle and it’s relatives also have a bit of a following, although I have not tried one myself -

73, Colin

I recently switched to a Palm Pico Single from an AME PortaPaddle, and I’ve been very happy with the switch. I found the PortaPaddle was not reliable, the pivots would get sticky and not rotate well, and the contacts were sometimes intermittent. I also couldn’t find a way to get some strain relief for the cable. I’ve been using the Pico for a few months now, and have no complaints. I think it’s also lighter and less volume.

Things to think on:

  1. Weight…no stone base.
  2. Robust… .rucksack proof
  3. Reliable… no fancy paddle pivots
  4. Security…can I fasten it to my thigh
  5. Cost…£25 tops
  6. Damp…will the mountain mists condense on the contacts
  7. Feel…Personal, touchy feely thing


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You can always add one on the summit!

This is one of my earliest CW activations, before I found that I could hold the Palm key under my thumb against the log book :smile: I would recommend the key, though I haven’t tried any alternative.





The stone is bigger than your radio!

On my very first SOTA activation I carried a Bencher paddle for lack of something more suitable. On my second activation I already had a homemade paddle made of wood, a significant weight improvement!

I use a touch sensitive sensor paddle for SOTA now. It was build around a kit sold by QRP Projects in Berlin.

Similar designs - ready built or as a kit - can be found at other dealers. The big advantage is: no moving parts, no contact gap that might need readjustment when the keyer gets thrown into a back pack. The disadvantages: It will not work with gloves (an issue in alpine winter!) and it relies on batteries. I carry a spare 9V block and a pico paddle as back-up in my emergency pack deep down in my back pack!

73 Heinz

Got a mini paddle from Palm from…this morning, 'just tried it at home but already love it.
Lightweight, smooth and soft under fingers and very responsive.
Only drawback (on my opinion of course) is the unit price. But quality lasts.


the portapaddle looks identical almost to the DCP paddle but there is a big price difference for what i can see, not much actual difference other than colour of the aluminium alloy.

$64 for DX orders(outside the US) But I’m sure if i wanted it I could avoid the $20 delivery fee this includes.

$89 for DX orders

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the touch paddle could work with those smartphone gloves on perhaps.
you can get them from anything from £2 up to £22 like these

I have never tried these gloves. The simple version for SOTA: I keep a pair of gloves where I have cut off the tips of index and thumb on the right hand.

Works for me - Heinz

I used the pico-Palm with my MTR series rigs for several years. It works reliably.

For the past year I have been using a touch paddle with the circuitry built into the MTR3. It uses about 2ma of power so that’s inconsequential. There are many ways to make the touch piece. I cut away the shield of two RCA plugs and use the center posts,

The touch key has the following BIG advantages:

no moving parts so nothing can be damaged in transit

no contacts so they can not get dirty or corroded

much smaller overall profile so the rig fits in my shirt pocket (no pack needed for many hikes)

cheaper than almost any paddle

The two protruding touch points are visible to the bottom left in this photo. Note that I clip my log to the back of the radio, hold the radio in my left hand with the log, up, and send with my right hand.

P.S. the piece of blue foam shown to the right of the radio uses tiny magnets to stick to the face of the radio and protect the delicate switches during transit. The white dental case seen plugged into the antenna jack houses a broadband EFHW impedance transformer into which the antenna is plugged using no feedline. A tiny space-pen is tethered to the radio and transports in the pink soda straw seen taped to the blue foam. A 300 mAH LiPO velcroes to the top edge of the radio completing the set-up which weighs about 8 oz complete.

  • Fred KT5X (aka WS0TA)


Hi Heinz,
I tried one of those touch sensitive sensor paddles many years ago and I found it very faulty with my dry skin. It worked perfectly when it was being touched by other two hams with me at that time, but was very faulty whenever I did it.
My conclusion was that it was a matter of skin conductivity. My skin seemed to be too dry for that.
Never tried them again though.


I own both the DCP and the Porta Paddle. The Porta Paddle is a step above the DCP. One big difference I like about the Porta Paddle over the DCP is making adjustments. They might look similar but the feel is not the same.

I was put off touch keyers by a reply to me by Richard G3CWI years ago -

Touch keyers are probably great in good weather but not so great in soggy, damp Britain!

73, Colin

Hi Colin,

I cannot confirm Richards findings at all! My keyer works flawlessly in rain and snow. The only critical issue is, you have to touch it with your bare skin. This is no fun in sub-zero temperatures. I think that there was progress in circuit design. The circuit I am using does not rely on resistance but uses the capacitance created by your touch to detune an oscillator. The circuitry then converts this into a key closure.

I do not know about Gurus skin type. But again never an issue for me even in the extreme cold where skin gets dried out a lot.

I estimate that my touch sensitive keyer was succesfully used in over 500 SOTA activations. I have also used it during my 2013 and 2014 Scotland tours where I had the occassional opportunity to operate in pouring rain from beginn to end of an activation. The keyer never made any problems even under these high humidity Britain conditions.

Maybe Richard could share the circuit he has been using so we can compare.

73 Heinz

A thought, the Teensy line of microcontrollers comes with capacitive touch ready pins and will run Arduino libraries. Could be a good place to start. Here’s some info: CapacitiveSensor Arduino Library with Teensy, for Capacitive Touch and Promimity Sensing

what about the advantages of using a straight key in cold weather. surely you could tap out mrose easier with gloves on than use paddles?

or am i on the wrong track?

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